Mamma Mia: Just Go With It

Have you ever dipped a Twinkie in a glass of Coke?

Have you ever seen the musical Mamma Mia?

The two experiences have a lot in common. Both are very fizzy, not terribly nutritious, but enjoyable in their own weird and wonderful way.

The idea of stitching the songs of the legendary pop group ABBA into a piece of musical threatre is equal parts genius and madness. The best Abba songs, “Dancing Queen” — “Knowing Me, Knowing You” — “Take A Chance On Me” — get into your head and just take over. The melody, the harmony, the relentless catchiness of it all. They are sparkling ornaments on the pop music Christmas tree. They are also little worlds of their own, certainly not part of any kind of cohesive narrative flow. So the producers of the show had quite a challenge when they decided to bring these songs to the stage where characters — not just singers — would perform them. Darn, if they didn’t pull it off though!

Mamma Mia! has been an unstoppable hit since it’s debut in London back in 1999. The Broadway edition has played to sold out houses since 2001. Now the North American touring company has pulled into Boston’s Colonial Theatre from now through December 16th. If you like your theatre amped up and ready to please — this is your show. It’s not going to change the way you look at the world, but you’ll sure walk out with a smile on your face.

The plot is mercifully thin. A Greek Island — a young bride-to-be — a plucky single mom — and the three men who may be the father. Everything plays out over a whirlwind 24 hours, and believe me you won’t be on the edge of your seat trying to figure out what happens next. This is a juke box musical folks, and luckily ABBA has the goods to keep it well stocked.

The Boston cast is more than up to the task at hand. Carrie Manolakos is plucky and endearing as Sophie, the young bride just dying to figure out who her dad is. Mary Jayne Raleigh is her mom, Donna — tough, testy, and ready to belt out a ballad when called for. She goes for broke on “Winner Takes It All” and owns it.

Then we have Donna’s two best pals from her girl group days. Christine Sherrill plays Tanya, the thrice-married gold digger — Allison Brinner plays Rosie, the never-married earth mama. The comic hijinks this duo provides is predictable, but the talent brimming beneath Brinner’s paper thin character is unmistakable. She has ten times the gifts required for the role, but she clearly enjoys the campy fun of it all.

The three dads are all pleasant and keep the show’s crisp pace from bogging down. Sean Allan Krill has the most to do as Sam. He’s got a great voice, but in a couple of the songs he’s left with little to do but stare longingly at Donna or sympathetically at Sophie. A lot of that has to do with the fact that a great pop song is often a singular, not shared, experience.

An interesting quirk of the show is the generational split. You’ve basically got a group of twenty somethings playing off a group of forty somethings. I’ve got to tell you, because the senior crowd at least has a little backstory to their characters, they’re a heck of a lot more interesting. In this case the old school teaches the kids a lesson.

I wasn’t crazy about the cattle prod closing of the show, but the greatest hits rehash did bring the audience to its feet. It struck me that the rock star posing that was going on in the curtain call was actually more in tune with the genesis of the songs. Disposing of the constraints of character and just letting the songs rip was a release for everyone — it ended the night on a fizzy high.

Now where are my Twinkies?!


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